Visualization of the Week: The story behind the U.S. power grid

"America Revealed" illustrates the complexity of the United States electric power grid.

Visualizations and promo videos from the PBS series “America Revealed” were passed around this week, and it’s easy to see why they caught on. Maps like these are fascinating.

Those pictures are impressive, but what drew me in was the mix of visuals and context that you see within episodes of the TV series. So often we’re presented with visuals or a story. But if visualizations are meant to do more than paint pretty pictures, we need the “and” — data and a story, a visualization and its context. This is why Hans Rosling’s approach is so compelling.

With that in mind, this week’s visualization is a segment from the “Electric Nation” episode of “America Revealed” that illustrates — and explains — the development, use and fragility of the United States’ electric power grid. The segment is below and you can find the full 53-minute episode available for free here. Other episodes in the series are posted here.

(Note: If the embedded video doesn’t jump to the electric grid segment, scrub to the 4:34 mark. The segment runs until 8:39. Watch for the grid maps and the illustration of the 2003 Northeast blackout.).

Found a great visualization? Tell us about it

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring visualizations. We’re always looking for leads, so please drop a line if there’s a visualization you think we should know about.

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